I believe it is important to understand advertising in an evolutionary perspective so as to appreciate the reasons for advertising’s use in a modern industrialized society. Advertising was spawned by a market-driven system and developed in a capitalistic, free enterprise market economy in which mass production utilized advertising as an essential tool. Urbanization, transportation expansion and communication advancements all facilitated the use and growth of advertising, the result of which is that advertising is firmly entrenched as a business function in our society with deeply rooted economic and cultural foundations.
Modern advertising exists as a mass media communication and is a result of four major developments:
the rise of capitalism: our society relies on aspects of capitalism in its economic system. Organizations compete for resources, called capital, in a free market. Competing for resources involves stimulating a demand for goods. If successful, the capital (or money or other goods) becomes payment.
the Industrial Revolution. This began about 1750 in England and spread to the United States where the War of 1812 boosted domestic production. The emergence of the principle of interchangeable parts and the perfection of the sewing machine, both in 1850, coupled with the Civil War, laid the foundation for widespread industrialization. The Industrial Revolution changed American society from household self-sufficiency to a marketplace dependence. What that means is that the individual could no longer produce all goods at home (i.e. farm cow for milk, chickens for eggs, weave their own cloth, grow their own vegetables). Moving to the city for employment in a factory guaranteed a steady income with which to buy needed goods. Other developments such as the revolution in transportation (i.e. Henry Ford’s assembly line belt for production of the Model-T Ford) allowed for the mass production of goods which in turn requires mass selling to move those goods. In 1869 the east-west connection of the United States was achieved by the connection of the railroad and this represented the beginning of a distribution network. Moving mass quantities of goods was necessary to satisfy the consumer demands which advertising had created. The rapid growth of the population as well as the growth of cities provided marketplaces essential to advertising.
the manufacturers’ pursuit of power within the channel of distribution. Manufacturers recognized the advantage of packaging products with trademarks so that the consumer would request their product rather than accept the generic product from the retailer. The retailer selected stock based on price point, allowing for the most profit. By branding product, the manufacturer has identified their product and given the consumer choice. For branding to succeed, an economic system has to be advanced enough to feature a national market and have a sufficient communication and distribution infrastructure. Among the first companies to brand their products included Levi’s (1873), Maxwell House Coffee (1873), Budweiser (1876), Coca-Cola (1876), Ivory (1879
the rise of mass communication. The advent of the telegraph in 1844 set about a communication revolution. Rapid communication engendered a sense of national community in that each portion of the country could simultaneously share momentous events (wars, discoveries, deaths etc.). Also the rise of mass circulation magazines now distributed nationwide through the railroads allowed for a type of democratization of information in that products previously unavailable to the masses were now available across the social spectrum. Mass media in the US for the most part was advertising supported (i.e. TV networks, radios, newspapers and magazines) and these media did not exist solely to entertain or inform, but rather to make a profit from the sale of advertising.
The Loose periods of advertising development:
Though advertising did not flourish before industrialization and the creation of concentrated urban markets, it still existed in a variety of forms. Babylonian clay tablets from 3000 B.C. were inscribed with messages from an ointment dealer, a scribe and a shoemaker. An ancient papyrus from Thebes represented Egyptian advertising. The Greeks used town criers to chant the arrival of ships and often accompanied them with musicians. Pompeian ruins revealed painted wall signs, an early form of outdoor advertising.
An important development in the 1700s was the appearance of the printed handbill for distribution. These were printed on engraved wood or copper and were used to announce the availability of products.
Gutenberg’s printing press (1438) really began the era of mass communication in that now printed materials could be mass produced whereas prior to the printing press, books and other printed materials had to be made individually. A Londoner printed the first English newspaper in 1622 and the first ad appeared in 1625. Early advertising messages tended to be informational in nature and appeared on the last pages of the tabloid. The Boston News Letter is said to be the first American newspaper with advertising. Two notices were printed in 1704 offering rewards for the return of merchandise stolen from an apparel shop and wharf.
The Mass Communication Era
From the 1700s through the early 1900s, this era traces the growth of industrialization in America during which the economy boomed and advertising helped to establish a marketing system. With the railroads connecting the country, the circulation of dailies, as newspapers were called, was estimated at one million copies per day. The population doubled from 1870 through 1900 providing an expanded labor force and a new consumer market – the middle class. This growing class was spawned by the economic windfall of regular wages from factory jobs. New modes of communication technology (i.e. telegraph, typewriter, Mergenthaler linotype [automated typesetting] and faster printing presses) increased communication capabilities. Modern magazines developed during the end of the nineteenth century aided by railroad distribution and illiteracy was reduced. Finally, the development of radio, television and the internet also fall within this period.
One problematic product category, that of curative or patent medicine, developed following the Civil War and were the first products heavily advertised on a national scale. Full of fraudulent claims, these ads promised a cure for everything. For the soldiers returning from the war with lost limbs and wounds little rural medical care available, sales of these drugs flourished. Although the Congress had been hesitant to regulate the fledging advertising market, they did pass the first legislation to control advertising claims, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Still advertisers could say just about anything. Most ads took the style of a sales pitch and were filled with dense copy and lacked any kind of surrounding social space or context in which the product was to be used.
During the years from 1875 through 1928, advertising ushered in what is now referred to as a consumer culture, or a way of life centered around consumption. Advertising became a full-fledged industry and agencies developed. It is important to contextualize these ads as they were created during a period of rapid urbanization, massive immigration, labor unrest, concerns over the abuses of capitalism, the first feminist movement (suffrage), motion pictures and mass culture.
By 1914 the Federal Trade Commission was enacted to prevent deception in advertising as well as protecting one business owner from the unscrupulous behavior of another. “Unfair methods of doing business are…illegal.” Also in 1914 the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) was established to verify circulation claims. Prior to the ABC, publications calculated their own circulation rates obviously creating circulation figures to suit their own needs. Once the ABC was established as an independent agent, these figures became standardized and accurate. In fact, the ABC can estimate figures such as pass-along-readers for print.
In 1916, the advertisers themselves established the Better Business Bureau as a self-regulatory committee.
Advertisers formed other organizations to improve the effectiveness of advertising such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1917. The 4 A’s remains the most comprehensive organization with the majority of agencies as members.
During World War I advertising became an instrument of direct social interaction and was utilized to arouse the public regarding war-related issues and the sale of war bonds. The power to persuade through this electronic mass medium was realized.
Following the war, the “roaring 20s” were prosperous. The Victorian age was over and the great social experiment in the joys of consumption began. Modesty gave way to sexuality and the love of the modern. Advertising encouraged the consumer to enjoy life and consumption was not only respectable, but expected. The citizen became the “consumer” and advertising instructed the consumer as to how to be modern and avoid the pitfalls of this new age (i.e., Listerine mouthwash taught customers about “halitosis” and Lifebuoy soap instructed about avoiding body odor). Products were developed to cure almost every social anxiety and personal failure. Other ads emphasized themes of modernity (i.e. public work space was the domain of the male while the private space of home became female). Ads became more visual with less copy and showed social lessons in a social tableau (slice-of-life) that instructed on how to fit in, how to be modern. Truck building factories from the war were retooled from military to commercial and the ages of transporting by truck was born. Trucking allowed for door-to-door delivery which in turn spurred the growth of chain stores and supermarkets. Bruce Barton, one of the founders of the large agency BBDO, was the author of a best selling 1924 book The Man Nobody Knows that portrayed Jesus as the archetypal ad man. He blended Christian and capitalist principles which was a very attractive mix to a people struggling to reconcile the traditional religious dogma, which preached against excess, with the new religion of consumption.
The Research Era
Over the last 50 years advertisers have developed techniques to identify and reach narrowly targeted audiences with specific messages. Moreover, within these years a sense of social responsibility developed where advertisers recognized that “public trust” was a key to success.
The emergence of radio as a significant advertising medium, remained dominant until the 1950s. This created a new sense of community as people separated by thousands of miles experienced the same programming (i.e., the first presidential address was broadcast in 1923 by President Coolidge and the first football broadcast in 1927). In 1927 the Federal Radio Commission (now the Federal Communication Commission) was created.
During the 1920s advertising had been heroic, but by the 1930s it had become villainous as the public believed it was big business and greed/lust that had caused the crash. Ads became more tough and the stylish ads from the 1920s changed to the harsher, cluttered and attention-grabbing style of the tabloids. During this economic catastrophe, advertisers were concerned about their business and sought the advise of advertising agencies. “Bad business conditions are good ones as far as we are concerned,” wrote Bill Benton in 1930 of the newly formed Benton & Bowles. However an angry consumer movement encouraged much reform during this period, reform which remains in place today.
World War II turned the economy around with the production of war goods. The Congress established the War Advertising Council to mobilize the nation for war, juxtaposing advertising with the war effort and this positioning to some degree rehabilitated the tarnished image of advertising.
Though the economy improved following the war and consumption increased, advertising was still viewed with suspect. Concerns about the rise of communism and “mind control” (i.e., exposure to such phenomenon as the Japanese Kamikaze pilots, the Hitler Youth and the ancient yet effective Korean methods of mind control) as well as suspicions nurtured by McCarthyism, nuclear threats of the cold war and possible aliens from outer space (Roswell) all lead to the circulation of stories that advertising was using a psychological sell utilizing subliminal advertising (subconscious). The public feared being seduced by advertising into buying things they did not want or need. The best selling 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, suggested this psychological approach. During this period advertisements were characterized by scenes of modernity, social promise and the attributes of science and technology.
Television developed and viewers began staying home. Political advertising and programming began to grow (i.e. the Kennedy/Nixon debates from the 1960 election in which those who watched TV thought that Kennedy had won as he had presented such a cool and attractive image whereas those who listened on the radio thought that Nixon had won as his arguments were far more substantial).
Disposable personal income tripled from the 1950s through the 1970s. New home sales increased, college attendance, TV usage and airline travel all grew with advertising contributing to the economic growth of industry.
It is interesting to note that during 1960s advertising was slow to reflect the social revolution in progress (the era of the hippies). The industry was predominately white and male with minorities and women in subservient roles. Visually however, there was a “creative revolution” in that ads became minimalist and graphic.
By the 1970s and the end of the Viet Nam war, the reelection of Richard Nixon, and Kent State advertisements began to represent minorities and women were presented in professional roles. Concern began to be voiced as to the effect of advertising on children. Newer, tougher regulator offices were developed to demand higher standards. Advertising judged to be misleading included Listerine mouthwash which claimed it could prevent and cure colds, Campbell soups for putting marbles in the bottom of the bowl to bolster the look of the ingredients, and Anacin for claiming it could relieve tension. Control within the agencies shifted from the creative department to the account managers, a change indicating the emphasis from creative executions to more effective business practices. Companies consolidated and companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Phillip Morris became umbrellas for dozens of separate brands. The media also consolidated as with the Turner empire of networks and Gannet papers.
From the 1970s through the 1980s a fragmentation occurred within the economy. This was due to numerous factors including: a. the growth in communication technologies with cable offering options such as ESPN, CNN, and Nickelodeon, and technologies such as the VCR, laser disks, specialized magazines and direct mail; b. audience fragmentation where there was no longer a traditional mass market. Advertisers began to identify markets by demographics and users of products. Television split into hundreds of channels where as once there had only been 3 networks. Magazines began to be published that tailored to special interests and newspapers added freestanding inserts so readers could choose what they wanted to read; and c. direct response advertising grew while data processing systems developed.
The beginning of “merger mania” in the early 1980s saw most major US agencies merge with one another as well as foreign agencies entering the US market. The impact on the creative was that of departmentalizing accounts (to keep clients that may be in the same product category, offices were designated as handling one or the other but never both so as not to compromise the security of the client’s work) and adding an international flavor to the creative.
The 1980s were also a time of conservatism with the election of Ronald Reagan and the reaffirmation of family and country. It was also the age of the infomercial that was made possible in 1984 when the FCC rescinded regulations limiting advertising to 16 minutes per house. An infomercial was a long advertisement that looked like a talk show or demo and initially aired in late night slots with small audience. They later spread to other time slots with larger audiences and created new ethical issues due to the fact that they appeared to be news programming verses paid advertising.
Today the era of ad-supported television programming is over and there is a need for advertisers to reinvent the process to fit the new ways of reaching audience members. With VCRs, TiVo and cable systems the viewer has the option of deleting advertising messages. Viewers are also able to utilize cable systems for on-line services such as shopping on either TV or the net. Changes in advertising will effect the way in which it is prepared and delivered to target audiences (interactively) and major advertisers are participating in integrated programming to better control the content of new media where viewers can interact with programming to get further information.
Other changes include a change in the concept of power in the distribution channel with mega retailers such as Wal-Mart gaining power away from the manufacturers. Value pricing is attractive to customers and retailers are now wresting power from the manufacturers who have a difficult time getting consumers to demand their products when the retailer has the power base. Private label brands are also developing to compete with national brands and offer lower prices.